Entrepreneurship: Dragons Den vs Shark Tank

One of the things I’ve been doing more lately is watching the UK show ‘Dragon’s Den’, as well as the US version which is called ‘Shark Tank’. Because both shows are about business investment, they offer some interesting insights into what investors look for and what drives other entrepreneurs. However, the really interesting part is the cultural differences between the two countries. I just thought I’d list a few observations!

So I’ll start by stating the obvious. The premise of both shows is the same. A panel of experienced and rich businesspeople (‘Dragons’/’Sharks’) sit in a line near the back of a large room, while a string of small business owners enter the room one-by-one and ask for money. The Dragons ask a series of questions all centred around “why?”, and then decide whether or not to invest. The show captures the process and some interesting moments.

They’re also both fascinating to watch. Each show brings all sorts of interesting businesses, from someone selling indoor exercise swings, to a pantomime production company, to a fence-post protector, to nasal tweezers, a Mexican range of juices, a crime-scene game, to novelty gifts, to this thing! There may be a focus on products as opposed to services, and it is reality TV, sure – but it goes to show just how much scope there is to innovate even in today’s society.

The top differences between the shows?

  • The first is the set-up. The British show is based in a bricks-and-steel warehouse – a pretty brutal setting, if I’m honest. The US show, though, is set in a glitzy high-rise which is all carpets, leather and mahogany. The US contestants even wander in past fish-tanks filled with sharks. Its way more extravagant.
  • The egos in the US seem bigger too. The Sharks are much more likely to insult each other as well as the contestants, calling some business owners “greedy pigs” and even a “vampire cockroach”. In discussing potential deals, the investors have twice used “greed is good” as a way of explaining where they stand, and one investor virtually shouted “I’m going to make you rich!”. You just don’t get that in the UK version. The Dragons are a lot less openly combative, and they’re more likely to just say “well done” if a business deal comes to a close.
  • The British panel are much tougher on the business-owners – they ask questions about the business that are a lot more probing. They make careful notes about profit and loss forecasts and carefully dissect any of the business strategies. In other words, they go into more detail. They’re more cautious.
  • The presentations in the US version are better quality. Each time the business-owners make their case for investment, their delivery is usually slicker, and the presenters have more energy. It’s much more of a sales pitch – and more entertaining, I suppose.
  • The levels of respect for the panel are very different. In a TV special on “How to Win in the Den”, one of the key suggestions for UK business-owners was to not try and give the Dragons business advice. It gets their backs up straight away and usually doesn’t end well. On the other hand, the Sharks are much more likely to be swayed by confidence. One of the US contestents even used the phrase “let me educate you” and had them listening. It’s kind of funny, really – almost exactly the opposite approach.
  • The UK version has a voice-over, which helps the viewer follow what is going on. So, in that sense, you learn more from watching.

What does it all mean? Well, for me, one cultural point. There’s been a lot on the news here about the dire state of the country, and how ‘broken’ British society is. But, if you keep your eyes open, you don’t have to look far to find a sense of community.

It’s in the show. The focus of Dragons Den seems to be more on the business idea, as opposed to the money – in comparison with the US. The UK version also makes more of an effort to help the viewer understand what is going on. So, in that sense, there’s always that underlying theme of “what can we learn from this?”, as opposed to the US theme of “how can I get rich?”. A sense of community is engrained in the UK approach.

Maybe I’m stretching my analogies a little too much. But, it’s interesting none the less. I’ll keep watching.


8 thoughts on “Entrepreneurship: Dragons Den vs Shark Tank

  1. keep in mind that editors from both “Shark Tank” and “Dragon’s Den” edit out a lot of material before broadcasting the show out to the world.
    so most of your differences may not be as it seems: the British show may have just edited out the stuff about the investor’s being “greedy pigs”

  2. I just watched a few eps of Shark Tank, after finishing all the eps of Dragons Den UK [the UK is very important — I think the Dragons are very businesslike and simply fantastic]. And man is it boring!

    I agree with your comment that the Dragon’s Den version has more probing, and more relevant questions, and that makes all the difference to me. I’m watching to learn business and that’s much more pedagogic as compared to Shark Tank.

  3. I had similar findings in my blog. I do not know if I agree that they ask more probing questions in the UK version. I take it that the UK presenters seem to know very little about how business and finance work. Especially in the first couple of seasons, when people would walk away turning down the sharks when they wanted a majority share. You see it once in a while in the US version, but it they seem to understand the valuation they are offering. The US people seem to realize more often that an Idea is cheap, it is execution and available networking opportunities where the value is.
    It may be due to our “media whore” culture in the US, but we seem overall to be allot less nervous. So I think the UK sharks need to get more into the business side of the questioning, since the people in front of them do not understand free market capitalism as much. That allows the US sharks to focus on the person, because many times that is what they actually invest in.

    My favorite episode was when the guy who invented laser levels asked for money on the Den. The Sharks turned him down saying there is no market. LOL. I love this post though, shared it with a buddy, much deeper than my article on why I love the shark tank, better written. Keep up the great work.

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  5. Having read this I thought it was extremely informative.
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